WARSAW — Republican White House contender Mitt Romney was set to deliver a keynote address in Warsaw on Tuesday likely to focus critically on Russia, after having scored a thumbs up from anti-communist freedom icon Lech Walesa.
Having previously been openly critical of US President Barack Obama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Walesa made no secret of his admiration for Romney and his conservative brand of politics following their meeting in Gdansk on Monday.
In a July 24 address outlining his foreign policy approach, the Republican hopeful criticised Obama's White House for what he termed its "abandonment of friends" in the region still wary of Russia.
He also had harsh words for Moscow, doubting the legitimacy of the March presidential elections which brought President Vladimir Putin a second term and accusing Russia of defending "the dictator in Damascus, arming him as he slaughtered the Syrian people."
On the final leg of a three-stop tour aimed at boosting his foreign policy credentials, Romney chose Poland, a country which made a peaceful, if difficult, transition from communism to capitalism in 1989, is now an economically flourishing pillar of the EU and NATO, but still has testy relations with communist-era master Russia.
Tuesday will also see him meet Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, both politically rooted in the Solidarity-era.
So far gaffes, however, rather than gravitas, have dogged the current front-runner ahead of the November 6 presidential ballot.
In Britain, the Utah 2002 Winter Olympics guru ruffled feathers by questioning security readiness for the ongoing London games.
In Israel he held top-level talks backing Israel's right to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, but quickly drew fire from the Palestinians for endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
While he received a warm welcome on Monday from Walesa who invited the candidate to Poland for his first venture beyond the old Iron Curtain, the Solidarity trade union which negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland in 1989 under Walesa's leadership sharply distanced itself.
"Solidarity was in no way involved in the organisation of this meeting and did not take the initiative to invite Mitt Romney to Poland," it said in a statement on its website.
"Regrettably we learned from our American friends at AFL-CIO headquarters who represent over 12 million workers about Mitt Romney's backing of attacks on trade unions and worker's rights," it added.
The meeting with the former Gdansk shipyard electrician who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for galvanising the Solidarity trade union had been seen as an opportunity for Romney to connect with working-class US voters as well as Polish-Americans ahead of the presidential election.
Poles have long lauded the Republican party, particularly its late US "Cold Warrior" Republican president Ronald Reagan for his staunch support of Solidarity's anti-communist drive and tough approach to Moscow.
In 2009, Walesa and late Czech anti-communist leader Vaclav Havel penned an open letter lambasting Obama's revamp of an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic planned by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
A host of former leaders in the region signed on to the statement casting doubt on US policy in the region in the face of what they dubbed a "revisionist" Russia.
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